Are Copyright Violations a Criminal Matter?

Posted on in Federal Crimes

chicago internet crimes defense lawyerCopyright violations are usually thought of as strictly a civil matter. Most people and businesses expect that if they use a copyrighted work without permission, they are likely to be sued and will probably have to pay the copyright owner civil damages. Copyright violations can be a federal crime, however. These intellectual property thefts are often a type of internet crime in modern times. Some people do not learn that copyright violations can be a criminal offense until they are being arrested for it. If this has happened to you, you will need an aggressive defense attorney to begin building your best defense as soon as possible. 

When is a Copyright Violation a Federal Crime?

It is true that copyright violations are usually handled in civil court. Not every case of intellectual property theft attracts the attention of the government. However, these prosecutions can and do occur. Copyright violations are a type of intellectual property theft. Under federal law, using, copying, or distributing a copyrighted work without the owner’s permission is a crime if it is done on purpose and for financial gain. 

The retail value of the unlawfully copied work must reach $1,000 before misdemeanor charges apply, so there is some leeway for very minor incidents. A felony may be charged if the value exceeds $2,500. Copyright violations that do not elicit any profit and were not intended to elicit any profit fall outside the purview of the statute. Copying or distributing a protected work is not a crime unless it was done for profit. This includes direct financial gain, such as by selling illegal copies of a movie, but it also includes more indirect gain, such as using stolen intellectual property like a computer program to gain a business advantage. Many prosecutions involve virtual intellectual property like video game designs or computer code stolen by competing companies. 

Also, the theft of intellectual property must have been done purposely. Accidental copyright violations are common and happen all the time. A person may be confused and under the impression that the fair use exception applies when it does not or errantly believe that a work is in the public domain. It can also be difficult to tell what is and is not protected by copyright. Even social media posts may be under copyright now. Intellectual property law is complex and easily misunderstood. The burden is on the prosecution to prove that a violation was purposeful, but it is wise to have an attorney proactively build this defense.

Contact a Chicago Federal Internet Crimes Attorney

If you are facing criminal charges based on a copyright violation, you will need an experienced Chicago internet crimes defense attorney. The Law Offices of Hal M. Garfinkel represents people accused of all types of federal crimes, including copyright violation. Call 312-629-0669 for a free consultation. 


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